Vermont is one of 37 states along with the District of Columbia that allows early voting. The process will begin at the end of the week and election officials are urging voters to take advantage of it. While one political party has questions about the distribution of the ballots, others say that’s just political gamesmanship.
No later than Friday, any registered Vermont voter will be able to request an absentee ballot from his or her town clerk by phone, mail, or online and then cast their vote. Vermont Secretary Of State Jim Condos says there is no difference between early and absentee voting. “Our absentee voting is what's called no excuse absentee voting. In some states you actually have to have a reason. You have to be ill. You have to be out of town whatever in order to request or receive an absentee vote. In Vermont it's not and we kind-of use the words interchangeably.”
Condos adds that the state has used the early voting system for years and more than a quarter of registered voters tend to take advantage of the option. “On a good election we could have somewhere between 27 and 30 percent of the vote be from absentee or early votes and I suspect that this year because it's a presidential year that we may approach that number again.”
Despite the established process, the Vermont Republican Party wrote to Secretary Condos expressing a series of concerns. Chair David Sunderland asked if some voters would have earlier ballot access that could advantage a particular party or campaign. “It's typical that absentee ballots and early voting ballots arrive at town clerks’ offices at different times. From what we can tell it's a bit unusual for there not to be a time where the town clerks have to hold those so that all of the towns are able to start early voting and send out absentee ballots on the same date. And in this case this year some towns will be able to early vote and absentee vote up to ten days or so before other towns are. And that does seem to be imbalanced, unfair and a bit curious.”
Secretary Condos did not want to discuss the letter he returned to Vermont Republicans, but his stern response notes state law mandates that: “The early voter absentee ballots shall be mailed …. upon the filing of a valid application, or upon the town clerk's receipt of the necessary ballots, whichever is later.” He also noted that once the Elections Division sends the information and deadline to the printer, they have no further role in the order in which they are printed and shipped.
Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis notes that voters can’t return the ballots until the 45-day voting window. “The G.O.P.'s concern is that the ballots were sent first to some of the larger communities like Burlington and Montpelier and the smaller towns got them later. And there probably are more Democrats in the larger communities in Vermont than in the smaller communities. But the town clerk can't pass it out until 45 days before the election. Indeed it should be noted that on their social media account the Republicans themselves were pressing Republican voters to apply for an absentee ballot right after Labor Day.”
A new law in Vermont enables the Department of Motor Vehicles to share address information with the Secretary of State and town clerks that allows for easier voter registration or re-registration.